GAAD 2019

This year’s GAAD (Global Accessibility Awareness Day) took place on Thursday 16th May, and to mark the event I went over to Spotify’s “Urban Escape” headquarters in Stockholm, where Spotify’s Design team were hosting a meet-up organised by the t12t group.

The event was an opportunity for like-minded folks to get together, and discuss how digital accessibility affects them or how they tackle it. There were a number of talks (a series of short ‘lightning talks’ plus one keynote) given by a variety of speakers.

Lightning Talks

First up were Shaun Bent and Phil Strain, from the Spotify Design team. They spoke about how they promote and accessibility best practices at Spotify via an Accessibility Guild; a cross-team collective of subject matter experts and advocates. Shaun also spoke about specific accessibility issues within the Spotify UI, such as the use of colour alone to indicate a changed or active state, which doesn’t help users with colour blindness. Their solution was to add a simple dot to the relevant icon, to indicate the changed or active state, as seen below. The positive feedback they have received from colour blind users shows what a big difference such a simple change can make.

Screenshot of Spotify playback UI, with dot to indicate 'Shuffle' mode is active

Victor Kaiser is a 23-year old Stockholm native who has suffered from Cerebral Palsy since he was four months old. He works for Tobii Dynavox, a Swedish company specialising in assistive technology for communication. Victor spoke about how their products have helped him, and what a difference they have made in how he communicates and interacts with others.

Victor Kaiser on stage at the GAAD T12T meet-up

He also gave some advice on how to design/build digital content for users of eye tracking software, or eye gaze devices. Unlike users with mobility issues that might rely on switch devices to navigate web pages, eye gaze devices (and eye tracking software) track the user’s eye movement and direction, so for example a link could be selected by the user resting their gaze on it. This means that any interactive elements should have plenty of space around them, to make it easier to target them visually.


Following talks on “Designing for neurodiversity” by Sara Lerén, and “Really accessible low hanging fruits” by Daniel Göransson, came the keynote, from Molly Watt. Molly has Usher Syndrome, a condition that causes both Deafness and blindness, and her talk covered a variety of issues stemming from her own experiences. Like Victor earlier in the evening, Molly sang the praises of assistive technology, particularly hearing aids, and what a profound difference the latest ‘smart hearing’ technology has made to her life.

Molly Watt speaking at the GAAD T12T event

Molly also spoke about challenging misconceptions when addressing digital accessibility. She suggested (while not wanting to be in any way negative about sets of guidelines such as WCAG) that, when it comes to making digital content accessible, checklists don’t necessarily work. She used the example of her own accessibility needs and how, as somebody who is registered DeafBlind, she doesn’t use a screen reader. So while checklists are a good starting point, more effort could/should be made to speak to and test with users with different accessibility needs.

The meet-up ended with some networking, and a chance to enjoy the views from the rooftop balcony on what turned out to be a beautifully sunny evening in Stockholm.

View of Stockholm from a balcony of Spotify HQ

Accessibility Club Conference, Berlin 2018

Accessibility Club (or a11yclub) is a regular meetup held in Berlin about all things web accessibility and assistive technology. Today they held their first all-day conference, at the beautiful Spreespeicher, next to the river Spree, looking onto the Oberbaumbrucke (bridge), in the Friedrichshain district.

The first speaker was Molly Watt, a prolific blogger and advocate of inclusive technology. Molly has Usher Syndrome, a condition that causes both Deafness and blindness, and although she has a wealth of knowledge of web accessibility and how it can be enabled, her talk was mainly around her personal experiences of travelling to events (such as today’s conference), and the many considerations that need to be factored in. If accommodation needs to be booked, the hotel needs to be contacted directly to ensure they are prepared for accommodating Molly’s Guide Dog. Molly also needs to check the route to the hotel/venue to ensure there are grassy areas for the Guide Dog. Travel arrangements also need to be planned carefully and thoroughly, although sometimes factors beyond Molly’s control can lead to major issues, such as when a trip overseas resulted in Molly’s Guide Dog being quarantined.

Holger Dieterich speaking about Wheelmap

Next up was Holger Dieterich, who talked about his company’s work on, an online map for finding wheelchair accessible places. Thanks to around 70 volunteers, working in 25 different languages, almost 1 million public places around the world have now been ranked in terms of their accessibility. He also spoke about, a free-of-charge API (currently in closed beta) providing access to standardised location-based accessibility data.

Leonie Watson gave a technical talk on the subject of web page performance, with a specific focus on assistive technology such as screen readers. She went into detail on the technical factors that can affect performance of different screen readers in particular browsers. The TTI (Time To Interaction) for screen reader users can vary greatly depending on how an operating system and web browser expose a page’s content to a screen reader; more detail can be found in Leonie’s slide deck, which she has made available here.

Leonie Watson speaking about web page performance for assistive technology

Charlie Owen

Charlie Owen gave an incredibly passionate talk about the issues that might be faced when advocating accessibility in a large organisation, and also very robust arguments in favour of making accessibility a core element of every project. The moral/ethical reasons for making web content accessible to all are not the only reasons. There are other, more commercial factors that should be highlighted, such as contractual obligations (perhaps as part of a Service Level Agreement) as well as legal obligations for certain kinds of organisations (such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in the USA).

Last speaker of the day was Alistair Duggin, Head of Accessibility at Government Digital Service, responsible for making sure that GOV.UK is as accessible as possible. He spoke about his 4-part strategy for making digital products accessible, revolving around these four core principles;

  • Design for ease of use
  • Design for easy adaptation
  • Design complementary alternatives
  • Design to work with assistive technology

Amongst the many observations he made about the accessibility work that’s been done at GDS over the last few years, one that I know from personal experience holds true is that baking in accessibility from the beginning of a project is much quicker and easier than having to retrofit or patch it in towards the end, as a release date is looming.

Posters designed by Karwai Pun on Dos and don'ts on designing for accessibility

The GDS has a wealth of resources for designing and building accessible products, from the Service Manual, to the Accessibility Blog and the “Do’s and Don’ts” posters on designing for accessibility.

To find out more about Accessibility Club and any upcoming events you can follow them on Twitter.

London Accessibility Meetup #10

Over the years, since I started working on the web, I’ve been to various industry & tech conferences. They’ve varied in content; sometimes they’re very technically oriented and deal mostly with coding, sometimes they’re aimed at a more creative audience, or sometimes (like in the case of the TEDx program) they’re not aimed at anyone in particular but can be very inspiring all the same. Since I became more actively involved in Accessibility, conferences and meetups dealing exclusively with how to make the web more accessible have been hard to find, at least in North West England. One meetup group that’s existed for some time now is the London Accessibility Meetup. Since I’m currently working in London I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to get along to one of their meetups, so I went along to last night’s event at Barclays in Canary Wharf.

This was certainly the classiest web meetup I’ve been to so far! Barclays’ Canary Wharf HQ is huge, and pretty impressive, and the refreshments on offer were more in keeping with an expensive wedding – no cold pizza to be found here.

The first talk came from Paul Smyth, Head of Digital Accessibility at Barclays, who is himself visually impaired. Paul talked about how Barclays are approaching not just web accessibility, but accessibility to their services in general, including talk cash machines and high visibility debit cards for visually impaired customers.

Paul Smyth discussing Barclays' approach to accessibility

You can find out more about Barclays’ accessibility program here.

The second talk was from Heydon Pickering, an Accessibility Consultant with The Paciello Group and author of Inclusive Design Patterns. Heydon’s talk was on the theme of Priorities, and I think it would be fair to say that it was a fair bit more irreverent than Paul’s talk. He started by discussing, and its complete lack of accessibility (due to, amongst other things, lazy/non-sensical use of JavaScript), and went on to cover other topics such as how many users actually care about features like subtle drop shadows around buttons – using a nice table comparing Feature to number of F*cks given…

Heydon Pickering jokingly presenting a quirky new concept for

Both talks were really informative, and although I got the impression a few folks in the audience found Heydon’s manner slightly offensive, I thought it was very refreshing and I’d happily listen to him talk again.

The next London Accessibility Meetup is scheduled for Monday 12th February. If you’re thinking of going along, I might see you there!